There are three tests of reliability that are used to establish whether or not an ancient document is reliable. These are the Bibliographic test, the Internal test, and the External test. The first test examines the biblical manuscripts, the second test deals with the claims made by the biblical authors, and the third test looks to outside confirmation of the biblical content.
Considerable time was spent in my last post on the bibliographic test, which deals with the early Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Now it is time to turn to the internal test.
2. The Internal Test
This test asks the question what claims does the Bible make about itself? Now this may at first appear to be circular reasoning. It sounds like we are using the testimony of the Bible to prove that the Bible is true. But we are really examining the truth claims of the various authors of the Bible and allowing them to speak for themselves.
A number of biblical authors claim that their accounts are primary, not secondary. They were eyewitnesses of the events they recorded. For example, John wrote in his Gospel,
“He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth.” (John 19:35, emphasis added)
Then, in his first epistle, he wrote this,
“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—what we have seen and heard we also declare to you…” (1 John 1:1–3)
The Apostle Peter makes a similar case when he writes in 2 Peter 1:16,
“For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; instead, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
The independent eyewitness accounts in the New Testament of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were written by people who were closely associated with Jesus. Their gospels and epistles reveal their integrity and complete commitment to the truth, and they maintained their testimony even through persecution and martyrdom.
Most of the New Testament was written between A.D. 47 and 70, and all of it was complete before the end of the first century. There simply was not enough time for myths about Christ to be created and propagated. And the multitudes of eyewitnesses who were alive when the New Testament books began to be circulated would have challenged anything that even looked like it was made up.
Furthermore, there are details found in the Gospels that give strong evidence for their integrity. They record the disciples own failures – some of them very serious. In Matthew 26:56 the disciples desert Jesus at his arrest. A few verses later we find Peter blatantly denying that he knew Jesus (26:69-75). In Mark 10:35-45 James and John are strongly rebuked for asking for the top seats alongside Jesus when he comes in his glory. And when it comes to the resurrection, it is the women who believe, not the disciples.
If these accounts were false or fabricated, you would not likely find such candidness and honesty about the writers own failures.
3. The External Test
Because the Scriptures continually refer to historical events, they are verifiable; their accuracy can be checked by external evidence.
The historicity of Jesus Christ is well-established by early Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources. Flavius Josephus (1st century Jewish historian) made specific references to John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and James in his Antiquities of the Jews. He provides many background details about the Herods, the Sadducees and Pharisees, the high priests like Annas and Caiaphas, and the Roman emperors mentioned in the gospels and Acts.
And then there are the archaeological finds. Time and time again, archaeology has confirmed what the writers of the biblical texts recorded. As Millar Burrows, former professor of archaeology at Yale wrote:
“On the whole … archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine. Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics.”
Let me give you an example: In Acts 17:6-8, Luke uses the Greek word politarches to describe the city officials in the city of Thessalonica. That word didn’t appear in classical Greek literature so for many years, critics accused Luke of making a mistake. Then archaeologists discovered a first-century arch in the town that used this very term — showing that the term was in use for government officials at the very time Luke was writing.
Gallio Inscription from Delphi, Greece, 52 C.E
Similarly, in Acts 18:12 Luke uses the term proconsul to describe a gentleman called Gallio. That word didn’t appear either in classical literature so, again, scholars questioned Luke’s accuracy. Then in the year 1900 an inscription was found at Delphi in Greece, dating to AD 51, using the same term — and amazingly, to describe the very same official, Gallio. Once again Luke was proven to be a very accurate historian.
Many of the ancient cities in the Bible have been called into question. One such city was Babylon. Critics claimed no such city existed. But in the 1920’s a man by the name of Robert Koldewey discovered the ancient ruins in modern-day Iraq. King Nebuchadnezzar was considered completely factitious, that is until hundreds of inscriptions bearing his name were unearthed. Again, the critics were silenced.
Robert Koldewey standing next to his excavation of the ancient city of Babylon in modern-day Iraq
Abraham is a name that dominates the narrative of the Bible – particularly in the Old Testament. He is held in the highest esteem by Christians, Muslims and Jews. But did he really exist? The Bible says he came from Ur of the Chaldees. But did Ur really exist? Critics claim since neither Abraham or Ur are found in any ancient records, they are a myth.
That claim could never be refuted, until archaeologist Leonard Woolley arrived on the scene. Between 1922 and 1934, Woolley – together with archaeologists from the University of Philadelphia worked at what was thought to be the site of old Ur in southern Iraq. After weeks in the back-breaking sun Ur was uncovered.
Sir Leonard Woolley
It is now clear that Ur was a major, highly developed and sophisticated city in southern Mesopotamia. Ur was a city with a complex system of government and was a centre of commerce that used writing, receipts and contracts in business.
According to the Bible, David ruled in the tenth century B.C., using the traditional chronology. Until 1993, however, the personal name David had never appeared in the archaeological record, let alone a reference to King David. That led some scholars to doubt his very existence. He had merely been created by later Biblical authors and editors. But in 1993 that all changed with the discovery of the Tel Dan inscription in an excavation led by Avraham Biran. Written in ninth-century B.C.E. Aramaic, it was part of a victory stele commissioned by a non-Israelite king mentioning his victory over “the king of Israel” and the “House of David.”
“House of David” Inscription. Discovered 1993
Archaeology has confirmed hundreds of cities described in the Bible such as Arad, Bethel, Capernaum, Chorazin, Dan, Ephesus, Gaza, Hezor, Hezbon, Jericho, and Nineveh and many, many more. Great discoveries are being made almost monthly today that confirm the truth of the bible and yet we never hear about it on the news or read it in the National Geographic. When it comes to the historicity of the Bible, there appears to be a double standard – one for ancient texts and artefacts, and another for the Bible. Yet the evidence is available for all to see, most of it being online.
When we take into account the bibliographic, internal and external tests of the Bible we find that it is far more reliable that the critics give it credit for (in fact, many attribute to it no credit at all). We find there are VERY good reasons to approach it with an open mind, willing to take what it says as well as weigh its claims seriously.
So why read the bible? Andy Bannister gives us three very good reasons:
Because from a historian’s perspective, we have good reason to trust it… Because only by reading it can you draw your own conclusions, rather than uncritically swallow somebody else’s second-hand-scepticism… Because through the pages of the four biographies in the New Testament, the gospels, one encounters a historical figure — Jesus of Nazareth — whose powerful personality continues to resonate and impact lives two thousand years on.
Those appear to be very good reasons to me to read this wonderful book. What you do from here on with this – well, that is up to you.
(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)